When Burnley signed Jonathan Walters away from Stoke City last year, the hope was to bring his experience, enthusiasm, and leadership to a team that had finished near the bottom of the table in its first campaign back in the Premier League. Walters was quite popular over his seven seasons with Stoke City, amassing 62 goals in 271 games, through ceaseless determination and hard work.
This season, however, has not lived up to expectations. With minor injuries to his knee affecting his play, Walters has been on the field for less than 40 minutes in total. He also missed Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers last fall with the same injuries.
Despite being sidelined in a cheerleader role, the Clarets have improved on their record, currently in eighth place with 34 points after 24 games played, not far below the 40 points earned for all of the previous campaigns. Although Walters’ joining the club is not the only change from the previous year, clearly having a seasoned striker on the team is helping Sean Dyche even when he’s not on the field.
Minor injuries such as plica syndrome, an irritation of the lining of the knee joint, or minor tears of the cartilage are fairly common among football players. Unlike ligament tears, a player can fully recover from these minor injuries in a matter of weeks.
Fans hoping to get Walters back soon are going to have to wait a bit longer due to keyhole surgery he underwent a couple of weeks ago. He should be back soon, according to his own Twitter post on 18 January: “Just a small cartilage trim so I’d say eight weeks conservatively.”
Other reports peg his return in as little as five weeks. That could mean a return as early as either of two back-to-back home matches against Southampton (24/2) or Everton (3/3) or perhaps an away match at West Brom (10/3).
Media reports just before his latest surgery indicated a significant interest from Sunderland as a possible player on loan. Although some doubt Walters would have been interested in playing for a team that was relegated out of the Premier League last season, he did spend time in the second tier early in his career and it would have been an opportunity to get more playing time. For fans, the silver lining to his injury, it ends any chance of leaving during the current transfer window, meaning Walters will be in claret and blue for the rest of the campaign.
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In December, Walters made a return for a full game – a friendly against League One side Wigan Athletic. He played the full 90 minutes and scored the winning goal, and looked to possibly join Burnley’s next game against Tottenham Hotspur. However, he was held out against the Spurs and only played briefly against Manchester United and Manchester City in the weeks before his surgery.
Despite his injuries this season, Walters was on track to earn a starting position. After recovering from an injury in the summer, he started against Blackburn where suffered his most recent injury. Having someone as strong and dedicated as Walters, with significant experience in the Premier League, gives Dyche an important option and should provide the team with more scoring opportunities, as he makes everyone around him better.
Walters’ future, however, could be more important with the signing of Aaron Lennon from Everton. The Clarets are looking to get more scoring, as they have just 19 goals in their first 24 games. Having Lennon, Walters, as well as Chris Wood and Sam Vokes, the Clarets could and should turn around a winless streak that started before Christmas Walters will be a large part of the final push to close the eight-point gap between Burnley and current sixth-place side Arsenal, to get the Clarets into the playoffs.